We need action on social care now, we cannot wait

Ruth Owen

Our Chief Executive Ruth Owen explains why the social care sector is on brink of collapse and why we need urgent action to stop this disaster.

Without a proper funding solution, the reality is that people – including many working-age disabled adults – will end up going without the care they need and deserve.

When does a sector in crisis become one on the brink of disaster? Many working in social care will argue their sector is at that point without meaningful, targeted support. 

Years of austerity, a pandemic which pushed staff to breaking point, funding squeezes to local authority budgets and the seemingly ever receding prospect of reform have resulted in widespread despair among those supporting society’s most overlooked.

Chronic underfunding

As the Autumn Statement looms closer, many working in social care are anxiously waiting to hear the new Prime Minister’s plans for this most beleaguered sector. Social care is surprisingly little understood, despite the critical needs of disabled people and the essential role it plays in taking pressure from the NHS.

The social care sector is on its knees after years of chronic underfunding and an exodus of staff who can’t take any more and can get better pay from supermarkets or elsewhere. Many don’t want to leave. They entered a caring profession for a reason and are deeply committed to those they support – but with their own costs soaring, feel backed into a corner. According to the King’s Fund think tank, “more than half a million people are waiting for council care services and there are 165,000 vacancies for care staff.” Both are alarming new records.

Social care crisis is urgent - we can't wait

So, it’s extremely concerning to hear reports that the government’s proposed social care cap could be delayed until after the next election. Don’t get me wrong, the cap was not the perfect solution – but it was a step forward in the right direction. The fear is these plans could be abandoned all together, with no replacement and social care reform again on the back burner.

We simply can’t afford to wait any longer for solutions – and, crucially, funding. Because unfortunately it’s people who draw on social care who are being impacted the most. Without a proper funding solution, the reality is that people – including many working-age disabled adults – will end up going without the care they need and deserve. 

Independence and choice

It’s important to understand that social care goes beyond the stereotype of personal care. It’s about offering independence and choice – from supported living services to residential care to personal assistants. It’s about being able to go out, enjoy activities and socialise. And it’s about being supported to study and work and access truly life-changing technology. But in the current crisis, it’s these things that are being compromised.

We’ve heard from disabled people who are now having to use their Personal Independence Payment (PIP) to pay for taxis to and from hospital appointments, rather than using it to pay for care. Others are no longer able to afford their adaptive equipment. And with rising fuel costs, some support workers can’t even get to work in the first place.

Worryingly, we’re increasingly hearing of the return of ‘15-minute care visits’ and care packages that barely meet people’s basic needs. This clearly presents huge safeguarding risks. The fact is disabled people are losing out on vital social care and support, not to mention their independence and quality of life. Meanwhile providers can face an uphill battle to get fees for care packages that reflect their true, and ever-increasing, costs.

We need action

Over the years we’ve heard a lot around proposed reforms, including a 2019 manifesto pledge. Yet we’ve not seen enough action. And further delays will be catastrophic to the sector. In July ADASS reported that just one in eight directors of adult social care services in England were confident they would have the resources to meet their legal responsibilities on social care this year. This is an extremely worrying statistic and poses a huge risk for those who draw on care. 

As conversations around reforms continue what we urgently need to see from the new Prime Minister is immediate interim funding for the sector. This must go beyond the Adult Social Care Discharge Fund. This funding must adequately address the workforce crisis, as well as rising costs resulting from inflation, which is causing a real-terms cut to care packages.

Cuts that are downright dangerous. The social care system is already on its knees.